The advent of the Messiah is the pinnacle of God’s redemptive plan for everyone on this planet. Given the importance of this event, it was critical that God’s people would know how to recognize Him when He came. There are various clues within the Old Testament, but perhaps none more laden with meaning than Deuteronomy 18:18. In this verse, God relays through Moses the idea that someone else is coming. While the exact details are not spelled out, a pointer for recognition of this future prophet is given.
I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
What does it mean to be “a prophet from among their countrymen like you”? To be like Moses is rather vague. Muslims typically misuse Scripture is an attempt to find Muhammad in prophetic passages. Muslims will take passages such as the one above that clearly point to the Messiah, and hijack it by insisting that they point to Muhammad. [i] [ii] How can a reader of the Old Testament be confident that this verse points to Jesus, and not another prophet of the Old Testament, or even a self-proclaimed prophet such as Muhammad? In order to unwrap the true interpretation of this verse, it must be viewed in context as well as how it is referenced in the New Testament. In this and later follow-up articles, the Muslim’s erroneous interpretation of the verse will be exposed, and the true meaning will be unpacked. By doing so, it will be shown yet again who Jesus is by seeing who Muhammad is not.
Thoughtful individuals know that context is essential to understanding Scripture. So what is chapter eighteen of Deuteronomy all about? Predominantly, it is about identifying false prophets. This is accomplished by warning people against the use of divination and spiritualists. These false diviners are easily determined by a track record of erroneous prophetic predictions. While prophecy itself is a much broader concept than just predicting future events, someone who incorrectly does so can immediately be recognized as a false prophet. Deuteronomy 18:22 defines this lack of accurate prophetic utterance as the litmus test for prophethood. If anyone speaks prophecy that is not later fulfilled, God says such a person should not be considered a prophet.
22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Inability to predict the future is a surefire way to recognize a false prophet. Muhammad never made any testable predictions, and therefore he cannot be confirmed as a prophet. Some Muslims may disagree with this, and therefore this topic will be expanded upon in more detail later. However, close analysis shows Muhammad does not utter any prophetic predictions that can be verified, and therefore the passage in Deuteronomy by necessity of logic cannot point to him.
Yet the means of identification for the true prophet referred to in Deuteronomy 18 still remains. One of the best ways to figure out what the Bible has to say is to let the Bible interpret itself. Errors in interpretation occur when proof texting a single verse out of context in an effort to shoehorn it into a theological agenda. Fortunately, God clarifies this important verse in other places in the Bible. The New Testament starts to shed some light on this by directly referencing this verse. In Acts 3:20-22 Peter references the prophet like Moses and then announces that the verse referred to Jesus.
Peter’s testimony in Acts provides enough Scriptural evidence to support the thesis that Deuteronomy 18 looks forward to Jesus and therefore not Muhammad. However, Jesus Himself also comments on His being foreshadowed by Moses. In John 5:46 Jesus points out that Moses was referencing Him.
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.
Jesus doesn’t quote Deuteronomy 18 specifically, and therefore may be more broadly referring to Moses’ writings in general. Yet many scholars believe He may be directly referring back to Deuteronomy 18.
So without even going very far in depth, the Bible in the context of the passage excludes Muhammad from being the prophet “like unto Moses” mentioned in verse 18. It does so just four verses later in Deuteronomy 18:22. Moreover, the Bible references itself making it evident that the passage in Deuteronomy 18 references Jesus, not Muhammad. In subsequent articles, the specific arguments of Muslim apologists will be shown to be in error, and the deeper meaning of what it means to be “a prophet like unto Moses” will be expanded upon.